Council Panel Studies Arming Park Rangers, Doubling Staff

Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles City Council committee this week began studying whether the park ranger staff should be doubled and if rangers should be armed.

The idea came amid complaints that crime in Griffith Park and other city recreation areas is out of control.

The council's Recreation, Library and Cultural Affairs Committee declined to make a decision at its first meeting on the subject Tuesday because two of the members, Councilmen Gilbert Lindsay and Joel Wachs, said they needed more information about arming park rangers.

"I have serious concerns about who is allowed to carry a gun in this city," Wachs said. "I need to know what sort of training they will get and who will do that training."

Coalition Pleased

Despite the delay, members of the Coalition to Save Our City's Parks, which has been pressing the issue and claims to represent more than 250,000 people, said they are happy that City Council members are beginning to consider their concerns.

"I'm just glad it's gotten this far," coalition spokeswoman Laurie Smith said before the meeting.

The proposal before the council committee, which consists of Lindsay, Wachs and Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson, would add 20 rangers to the city staff and give the rangers peace officer status, which includes the right to carry a gun and make "probable cause" arrests. The plan would cost an estimated $500,000, most of which would be used to hire more rangers.

The 22 rangers now on the staff patrol 351 parks in Los Angeles and only have the authority to issue parking tickets.

'Lawless Territory'

Coalition members as well as Los Angeles police from the northeast division, which patrols the Griffith Park area, argue that the rangers' current status and numbers severely restrict their enforcement of laws in the park, which, according to Smith, has become "lawless territory."

"Rangers are virtually ineffective when it comes to confronting criminal activity," Smith told the committee. "Criminals return to the parks again and again to commit their crimes with impunity."

Northeast division police Capt. Bob Taylor, who supports the proposal, said that crimes such as robbery, assault, rape, lewd conduct, burglary and vandalism increased 25% last year in the 4,000-acre Griffith Park.

"Something has to be done, because the situation is only getting worse," Taylor said. "When something big happens out there, we respond, but we just don't have the manpower to handle the day-to-day crime."

Earlier Plan Eliminated

Taylor said that the Police Department endorsed a similar plan drawn up by the city's Recreation and Parks Department in 1980 and recommending that rangers be given peace officer status. That plan, however, was eliminated during budget review hearings that year.

Park users are worried not only about serious crime, but also about vandalism and theft of plants and park equipment.

"Just as quickly as the department can replace or repair stolen or defaced items, these same items are again stolen or defaced," Smith said. "We have reached the stage that all new landscaping and structures being installed in city parks are designed with inevitable vandalism in mind."

Based on figures provided by the Recreation and Parks Department, the coalition has drawn up a report claiming that the city spends $1 million a year to repair or replace vandalized equipment in Los Angeles' parks. Further, the report maintains, the city could be the subject of lawsuits should someone be injured because park equipment was not replaced.

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